The Oxford English dictionary defines cultural appropriation as, ” The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society”. It has always existed. That Halloween costume were you dressed up as a Native American or a geisha that one year? Cultural appropriation. Wearing a bindi even though you’re not Hindu? Cultural appropriation. If you’re using a culture that isn’t yours as a prop and/or for monetary gain rather than understanding and learning about it, it’s cultural appropriation.
Katy Perry comes to mind. She has been accused for years for doing just that, from her performance as a geisha at the 2013 American Music Awards to using Egypt as the backdrop for her “Dark Horse” music video. While promoting Witness, she spoke on the subject, stating that she didn’t know better at the time and that her black friends told her what she did was wrong. I’m not necessarily sure Perry was totally sincere as this was part of promoting her new album. Only time will tell.
[From Hype Hair Magazine’s YouTube channel]
Then, there’s the Kardashian-Jenner clan, but let’s keep the focus on Kendall and Kylie. The younger of the two is no stranger to being in the news for cultural appropriation. Various media outlets praised Jenner last year for starting a new trend of braids called “Birthday Braids.” Um, what? In actuality, the braids she referred to were boxer braids, a hairstyle worn by black women much longer than Jenner has been alive. Amandla Stenberg summed it up best: ” When you appropriate black features and culture but fail to use your position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards your wigs instead of police brutality or racism”.
Most recently, both sisters have been accused of cultural appropriation after trying to sell their new shirts. The problem? They used photographs of famous rappers, such as Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg, without permission from the photographers AND had the gall to place photos of themselves over the rappers. It not only resulted in taking the shirts down but being sued by Michael Miller, the photographer who took the pictures of Tupac used for the sisters’ shirts. It was an ignorant and very disrespectful decision for the sisters to make.
Cultural appropriation can be avoided. Other cultures are not meant to be worn and thrown away once you’re done with them (Miley Cyrus). They should be acknowledged and respected. Adele is a great example of appreciation. She has given credit to black singers, such as Aretha Franklin, and has been inspired by them. She is not mocking black culture nor is she trying to act like someone else to be recognized in pop culture. Be more like Adele. It won’t result in controversy or a lawsuit.